Written by Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria
Since the start of the pandemic, the activity of construction companies in Bulgaria was hindered by economic uncertainty, the government’s anti-COVID measures and the lack of workforce due to quarantine or illness. Therefore, during the period of March 2020 – March 2021, NSI (National Statistical Institute) data shows that building construction decreased by 8.4%. However, the sector has signs of recovery as in March 2021 building construction production index increased by 8.0% for the first time compared to the same month a year earlier.
Short-term indicators also suggest the improved confidence of investors after the hesitant 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, permitted floor area was 11.0% more than in Q1 2020, and almost 4% more than Q1 2019. The same trend, but with stronger dynamics, is also observed regarding started floor area. During the first quarter, accumulated construction permits resulted in starting of more than 660 000 sqm., which is nearly 25% more than in the corresponding quarter of 2020, and by 5.5% more compared to 2019.
Residential property market
Despite the experienced difficulties, residential construction is remaining in the center of investors’ attention due to the growing residential property market especially in the largest cities (Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, etc.). After the initial withdrawal of buyers in the middle of 2020, it became clear that there would be no evident shift on the residential property market.
Regarding the supply side of the market, 15 623 new dwellings were completed last year (Q2 2020 – Q1 2021), which is 17.4% higher than a year ago and is the highest figure in the last 10 years. Still, this cannot catch up with demand which pushed prices up at the end of 2020 and in early 2021. The number of transactions went up in the first quarter of 2021 by 17% compared to the same quarter of 2020, and it is actually the strongest first quarter in the last 5 years. The ongoing housing price increase intensified after 2015. Since then, the accumulated price growth has been over 41%.
There are several factors contributing to the ongoing process:
Low interest rates on housing loans: last year banks improved the conditions of granting loans. The average interest rate on housing loans in March 2021 is 2.75%, which is historic low. The increasing interest in buying a home resulted in a 6% growth of newly granted loans in the period of April 2020 – March 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier. In Q1 2021, 20% of all deals are financed with bank loans but there are significant differences between cities. In Sofia, where buying a property is the most expensive, nearly half of the deals are financed with the banks’ help. In Varna the share is 32%, while in Burgas and Plovdiv the respective deals are 30% and 25%.
Low deposit rates: interest rates on deposits are close to 0% as in the last months some banks started to refuse taking new term deposits, which shifted people’s savings into real estates as the most reliable option.
Speculative investment: investors’ invest in acquiring properties in early construction stages with intentions to re-sell after the completion, which generates additional demand, and increases prices. Additionally, the growing profitability of the real estate market attracts the savings of people working abroad who look for investment opportunities in their country of origin.
Residential construction forecast is available in the EECFA Construction Forecast Report Bulgaria that can be purchased on eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.